NEW YORK — It took seven months this season for the Metropolitan Opera to produce a completely satisfying diva moment.
Karita Mattila gave a performance for the ages — of course it was for the ages; she played 337-year-old Emilia Marty — when "The Makropulos Case" returned to the Met on Friday night after an 11-year absence.
Having starred at the Met in "Jenufa" (2003 and 2007) and "Kat'a Kabanova" (2004), Mattila triumphed as yet another Janacek heroine.
Mattila cuts a glamorous figure, especially for a 51-year-old. Her blond hair done in a finger wave, she resembled Madonna simulating Marilyn Monroe, whether in a powder-blue dress with matching jacket (Act 1), a slinky emerald green gown (Act 2), or a white slip and golden goddess gown (Act 3), Mattila was runway ready. No wonder all the men were fussing over her.
Janacek's libretto, based on a 1922 play by Karel Capek, focuses on Marty and is a story that never gets old. Her real name is Elina Makropulos and her father Hieronymus was a court physician who was called upon to invent an elixir of life, then forced to try it on his 16-year-old daughter. The potion extended her life 300 years, but is now fading. At first she wants to get the formula back, but then decides life is only meaningful if it isn't endless.
With posing and voguing and eccentric movements — she set a standard for pantomiming castanets — Mattila created a vivid portrayal. She deftly maneuvered the leaping notes of Janacek's 1926 score, showing off gleaming high notes alongside a middle register that rode over the color-filled orchestration, even though it has lost some of its power. She won a huge ovation from the audience and seemed a bit overwhelmed.
Mattila debuted in the role at the San Francisco Opera in late 2010. Her portrayal is different than those of Jessye Norman, who sang the Met's premiere run in 1996, and Catherine Malfitano, who headlined revivals in 1998 and 2001. While time turned their portrayals world-weary and cynical, Mattila is more eccentric and hyperkinetic.
Tenor Richard Leech, returning to the Met after an eight-year absence, was a sweet-voiced Albert Gregor, who turns out to be her descendant, and tenor Alan Oke an angry Vitek. Soprano Emalie Savoy, in her Met debut, was a nervous Kristina. Bass-baritone Johan Reuter, also making his company debut, was an imposing Jaroslav Prus. Tenor Bernard Fitch gave a humor-filled portrayal of Marty's old lover Count Hauk-Sendorf.
Jiri Belohlavek conducted with color, mood and sweep, and Elijah Moshinsky returned to direct his original production with emotion and humor. The third-act set by Anthony Ward resembled a W Hotel lobby, even though he created it two years before the first W hotel opened.
Dona Granata's new costumes for Mattila were elegant and sassy. Singing, acting, sets, costumes and direction came together in a way few nights have at the Met this season.
There are four more performances through May 11, including a May 5 matinee that will be broadcast on radio. It's a shame this wasn't included in the Met's high-definition theater telecasts instead of mediocrities such as the final two installments of Robert Lepage's "Ring" cycle and Michael Grandage's "Don Giovanni."